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Understanding Gun Rights at the Airport

Posted by Alan Eisner | Jan 21, 2019

Understanding Gun Rights at the Airport
Penal Code 171.5 PC makes it a crime to knowingly possess a firearm, taser, stun gun, or ammunition in the “sterile” area of an airport.

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees citizens the right to keep and bear arms. The Supreme Court has affirmed that this is a personal right rooted in the natural right of self-defense.

Nevertheless, State governments (as well as the federal government) have the right to enact reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions that limit the right to possess a firearm. California is no exception.

The gun laws in California allow most adult who are at least 21 years old to buy a firearm without a license.

Unless you are prohibited from owning a gun, you can legally keep a gun in your home or business and carry your gun from one location to another in a locked container.

There are certain people who are typically prohibited from possessing a gun in California, including:

  • convicted felons,
  • drug addicts,
  • people with mental illness,
  • anyone convicted of domestic violence under Penal Code 273.5 or
  • two or more convictions for brandishing a weapon under Penal Code 417, and
  • Penal Code Section 29810 requires individuals who have been convicted of certain crimes to relinquish their firearms to law enforcement.

It should be noted that anyone who is prohibited from owning or possessing a gun is also prohibited from owning ammunition. If you have been accused of possession of a firearm at the Los Angeles International Airport or any other Airport in Sothern California, contact our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys so we can review the specific details of your situation and provide some legal advice moving forward.

Concealed Firearm Permits

Readers will likely know that, in general, carrying a concealed firearm in California is unlawful without a difficult to acquire permit.

Firearm permits to carry a concealed firearm are authorized under Penal Code 26150 and 26155. These licenses will entitle you to carry a firearm capable of being concealed upon your person.

The permits are issued by your local law enforcement department as long as you can show you reside in the city, are of good moral character, show a good cause for the license, and have completed a firearms training course.

After you receive a permit to carry a concealed firearm, you can legally carry a loaded, concealed gun. However, legal possession of firearms at airports and passenger vessel terminals require a much further discussion below.

Possession of a Firearm at the Airport

Recently, we have been involved in litigation in several matters involving the possession of a firearm in a very specific location - the airport.

Airports are unusual locations in that both State and federal law enforcement have jurisdiction. We have seen cases in which the F.B.I. is involved with an arrest at the airport, and also situations in which normal police officers make arrests.

This summary deals specifically with the California State crimes which may be charged for possessing a firearm at the airport. Keep in mind that it is possible to lawfully fly with a firearm, but only when strictly complying with TSA guidelines. Passengers should consult TSA and airport authorities before attempting to do so to ensure that all protocols are being followed correctly.

In general, unloaded firearms may be stowed in checked baggage provided they are secured in an appropriately protective locked container. Under no circumstances is it advisable to bring a loaded firearm to an airport.

California Penal Code Section 171.5

California law provides several avenues for charging the possession of a firearm at the airport. Penal Code § 171.5 makes it unlawful to knowingly possess a:

  • firearm,
  • taser or stun gun,
  • BB or pellet gun,
  • an imitation firearm,
  • the frame or receiver of a firearm, or
  • ammunition in the “sterile” area of an airport.

The sterile area of an airport generally describes those areas of the airport which are past the initial TSA screening area which includes metal detectors and body scanners.

A violation of Penal Code § 171.5 is a misdemeanor offense carrying a maximum punishment of 6 months in the county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

The generic offenses of Carrying a Concealed Firearm pursuant to Penal Code § 25400(a)(2) or Carrying a Loaded Firearm in a Public Place pursuant to Penal Code § 25850(a) may also be charged. Further, California Penal Code Section 171.7 makes it a crime to carry a weapon into a public transportation facility.

Legal Defenses for Possession of Firearm at Airport

Defenses to a charge of unlawfully possessing a firearm in the sterile area of an airport are similar to those for other possessory crimes.

The major avenue of attack is typically knowledge. If the defendant did not know they were in possession of a firearm when entering the secured area of the airport, they should not be found guilty.

However, the government can prove knowledge by circumstantial evidence. In many cases, it may not be credible to argue that the defendant accidentally brought a gun to the airport.

That said, those who carry firearms for work - as security guards, for instance - may encounter situations in which their otherwise lawful firearms are stored in luggage that they simply forgot to thoroughly examine prior to arriving at the airport.

Contact our Criminal Law Firm

Due to the current political climate, all gun crimes, particularly those involving air travel, are taken extremely seriously by law enforcement and prosecuting agencies. If you or a member of your family is involved with a firearm possession situation at an airport, effective representation is necessary to immediately intervene and attempt to reduce or drop charges before court. 

Even if you have already been charged, a skilled Los Angeles criminal defense attorney at Eisner Gorin LLP can attempt to secure a reduction in the charges and a sentence involving minimal punishment.

Our experienced criminal defense attorneys are familiar with the laws surrounding gun possession at airports and are available to assist you immediately.

We serve clients throughout Los Angeles County and the San Fernando Valley and have a track record of success defending clients against all type of firearm possession charges. The first step is to let us review all the specific details of your case in order to form an effective defense strategy to obtain the best possible outcome.

Contact our law firm at 877-781-1570 to review the details of your case.

Eisner Gorin LLP Los Angeles Criminal Defense Law Firm 1875 Century Park E #705 Los Angeles, CA 90067 310-328-3776

About the Author

Alan Eisner

Alan Eisner  Van Nuys, California (818) 781-1570 (818) 788-5033 Email Me  Alan Eisner has practiced criminal law for over 28 years in Los Angeles County . Mr Eisner is a Certified Specialist in Criminal Law. (The California State Bar's Board of Legal Specialization has designated Mr. Eisner as a...

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